Spoils of War 11 – Animalia

First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
Previous: Out of Hell

Aran left a solid block of the road converted into salt and then, for good measure, the two cross streets.  The slug could move around it, sure, but it would take the thing time.

By that point, hopefully she could figure out how it was trailing them.  She closed her eyes again. Maybe-

“Wait.  It’s an animal, right?  I mean, we hope it’s not a person.  So why don’t you steer and I see if I can figure it out?”  He poked her in the arm and snorted. “Come on, you worked in team.  A troupe. So why are you trying to do everything yourself?”

“Because you get angry every time I tell you to do something,” she countered.

“So ask.  I mean.  You know how to request something, don’t you?”

“Oh fine.  Please can you find out what you can about the slug.  I’ll keep an eye on our path.”

“As you wish.”  She thought he sounded pleased.

The night was still dark, so an eye was more of a feeling.  The horses were tired, but they were willing to go in whatever direction she was leading, trusting that it might lead to another stable sooner rather than later.

“Well, shit,” Aran muttered, three blocks later.  “Uh….” He twisted in his saddle and did a series of Workings that left a cloud of noxious smoke behind them.  The horses sped up, trying to get away from it. One of the cats hissed. “So there’s…. either five of them or there are five parts of the same thing.  And they are tracking something like a scent. It might be psychic, so I tried to do something to take us out of their mind. Minds. I honestly don’t know if it works. On the plus side -” his laugh had nothing to do with humour and sounded more exhausted than anything “-maybe if the Mountain is tracking us, they’ll run into those slug things and one way or another someone will take someone out.”

“One can always hope.”  She had only slept for a few hours, and it felt like not nearly enough time.  She reached out again with her power and tried to keep the horses moving in the right direction.  “We need to turn left here. The other bridge is out, and we have to get across the river. And away from that stink.”

“I think the stink is going to have to follow us for a bit,” he apologized.  “I’m trying to get it to fill all of the side streets. Down side? I might wake up some residents.  Upside? The further it spreads the less obviously directional it is.”

“Shit.  Well, it’ll keep me awake, at least.”   Her eyes were watering and her nose was running.  “That’s pretty impressively stinky. Here, left.”

“Yes, ma’am.  It’s all I could think of.  That and the salt. Well, you thought of the -”

A scream, inhuman and burbling, cut the air.  The horses bolted, Nikol mount rearing onto its back legs for a moment before galloping away at top speed, hooves clomping loudly against the asphalt.  

Nikol kept her seat with clenched thighs; the cat behind her yowled but somehow didn’t fall off.  She leaned forward and let the horse do as it would, only putting any pressure on the reins when it looked like the beast might fail to notice the river in front of them.

It took a hard pull on the reins, pressure with her legs, and Aran behind her spitting out gasped Workings one after another after another, and the feeling of the water on their forelegs before the horses stopped running.  Behind them, the thing was screaming again, but the sounds were further away.

“Bridge.”  She dismounted, swinging her right leg up high; the cat on the back of her horse that she’d just stretched to avoid hitting immediately climbed into the saddle.  She took the horse’s reins and clucked to it. “Do you know what their names are?”

“They don’t think of things that way.  They think of themselves as horse and then a set of sort of horsey identifiers.  Uh. The one you’re riding thinks she’s horse-strong-hooves and the one I’m riding thinks of himself as Sleepy-placid-calm.  More or less.”

“Thank you.”  She clucked at her mount.  “Strong-hooves. Strongfoot, come on.  We’ve got to get over this thing quickly, okay?”

“They don’t- hunh.”  The horse was moving with her clucking.

“They don’t know what the words are, but they know tone.  I know horses, Aran. I just don’t know horses.”

“You make it sound like I, uh.  Come on, Calm-face. Come on.” He got his own mount moving as well.  “Look, I dunno. You were on foot when I – um. Met you.”

The stink was starting to get tolerable.  She wondered if her nose was just burning out.  Another scream echoed in the distance, this one much weaker.

“I was on foot when we met,” she agreed.  She got Strongfoot over the bridge with a series of cajoling sounds and firm pressure on the reins.  “Someone had shot my mount out from under me.”

“Shit.  Poor thing.”  He winced in sympathy – presumably for the horse, not her. “Horses don’t belong in battle.”

“If we don’t get them out of this city, they’re going to be in battle with a giant slug-thing or its cousins.  Come on, Aran. What’s slowing you down?”

“The slug.”  He turned to look behind him and then looked back at her, struggle clear on his face.  “I feel bad for it.”

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